I am a daughter of Ignatius. At times, I joke that I am a “Jesuitte” because I live and breathe the very spirituality that guides the Jesuits, an all-male religious order that St. Ignatius founded more than 500 years ago. Ignatius’ legacy, spirituality, and tools for discernment permeate my life, my marriage, and my motherhood. They form the basis of my ministry as a retreat facilitator, spiritual director, and writer.
Much of Ignatian spirituality finds its roots in St. Ignatius’ recorded experiences of prayer and his own experiences of God. St. Ignatius crafted the text of the Spiritual Exercises, a series of meditations and guides for praying with scripture. The gifts of Ignatian spirituality serve as rudders for walking through life with hope and clarity.
Here are seven unique elements of Ignatian spirituality that I lean on regularly in my day-to-day life. I invite you to consider using them as guiding principles in your own.
1. Living as a contemplative in action
I am not a monk. My walls echo with the voices of children and conversations with my husband. I live in the world as a wife and mother. Like most of us, I juggle the many responsibilities that are part of my lay vocation: working, raising children, grocery shopping, earning a living, socializing with friends and family. I am active, yet I am also a contemplative. Morning prayer is the foundation of my day, and it strengthens me and readies me to go out into the world using the gifts God gave me. Each of us can come to God daily in prayer within the realities of our lives to serve as the foundation for our work in the world.
2. Accepting we are each fully loved and given mercy
I seek to accept that I am loved by God as I am and also to see the goodness in each person. Ignatian spirituality honors the dignity of each person and respects our woundedness. This teaching helps make me aware of my capacity for sin and my own brokenness, which in turn helps me more compassionately encounter others. A close relationship with God built through prayer strengthens my belief in my own goodness and reminds me of my dependency on God to overcome temptations. How can you turn to God in prayer to deepen your knowledge of God’s love for you and also ask for God’s help in overcoming temptations?
3. Seeing God in all things
Ignatius was known to stare at the stars and sky for long periods of time, and it brought him great consolation. This act of pausing and noticing God at work in all things — and not just at Mass — remains a guiding principle of Ignatian spirituality and my life. Today, I can pause and consider what is before me — nature, other people, my children, my work — and notice what God might be teaching me in my daily encounters. In your day, notice the abundance of ways God encounters you through the world and the people around you.
4. Knowing we are not alone
I have a companion and friend in Jesus, no matter what I am facing in life. The crux of the Spiritual Exercises is about developing a personal and intimate relationship with Jesus and understanding Jesus’ humanity and divinity. Just as Jesus grew into his divinity, I, too, grow in my own holiness within the reality of my full life. Even if we do not participate in the Spiritual Exercises, we can get to know Jesus by using prayer methods such as Lectio Divina or Ignatian Contemplation to pray with the Gospels. As we pray with scriptures, such as Jesus’ baptism (Luke 3:21-22), we see that Jesus understood He was fully loved by God, just as we are, and we see that Jesus overcame temptations, like the ones He faced in the desert (Luke 4:1-13), with the help of God. We, too, can overcome anything we are facing with Jesus’ gift of companionship.
5. Learning from Jesus
I can look to Jesus to model the way to live, love, and act. Ignatian spirituality teaches me that getting to know Jesus and loving him clarifies my unique way to walk through the world and express my faith. Jesus teaches me how to remain grounded in a relationship with God, through prayer. I can also learn about the unique aspects of God’s Kingdom by watching whom Jesus loves, how He loves them, and how He acts. Jesus shows us how to love others with compassion, and he shows us how we can respond to the deepest needs of others to help restore their dignity.
6. Being women and men for others
My encounter with God through prayer calls me forth to be a woman for others. At the very end of the Spiritual Exercises is a meditation that begins: “Love ought to express itself in deeds more than words.” In a sense, this means Jesus desires concrete actions from me to express my love of God. Jesus modeled a life centered on reading human hearts and responding to the deepest need. We, too, are called to notice the deep needs of others and respond to them out of the love God has for us.
7. Praying about our lives
I can bring my entire life before God in prayer. A prayer tool that pulls many of these pieces together is the Examen, which was developed by St. Ignatius. It involves praying about the last 24 hours of your day and acknowledging where we encountered God, what helped us grow in our relationship with God, what inhibited our growth in God, and how we are uniquely called to bring God’s love and mercy into the world. If you haven’t already, give the Examen a try as a way of including God in all areas of your life.
When we’re often caught up in the latest trend or fleeting fad, I find comfort and relief in the credibility of a spirituality that has survived this long and continues to impact me and so many others still today. May Ignatius’ wisdom and insights from his own spiritual journey continue to bear fruit in our lives today!
(Originally published April 3, 2017)